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The quality of subtitling is under tremendous threat!

There is a fierce price war going on among subtitling companies, driven by the major film studios - who appear to have unrealistic expectations with regard to further cutting their costs without affecting quality. It is experienced freelance subtitlers who bear the brunt of this war. Subtitling rates are constantly being cut (by up to 50% in the last few years), to the extent that many seasoned professionals are being forced out of the business. This is despite the huge profits made by the studios through DVD sales. 

This downward pressure on pay is leading to a corresponding drop in the quality of subtitles read by millions. The trend has been detrimental not only to subtitlers? working conditions, but also to the companies concerned and the quality of their products. Quality is essential both for the enjoyment of the film or programme and for its potential as an educational tool. Hence our campaign to try to persuade the film studios of the importance of good subtitling and the need to ensure quality.  

Subtitling is not straightforward translation, but involves editing and rephrasing dialogue succinctly and with linguistic flair. Despite the highly specialised nature of subtitling, this complex and time-consuming area of expertise is not given due recognition. To earn a decent living, subtitlers are being forced to increase output to levels at which quality cannot be sustained. Experienced subtitlers are being replaced by inexperienced and/or unqualified translators who produce poor work for incredibly low pay - or even by unpaid student interns! 

As a result, the talent and care invested by film-makers in their finished product is often in effect being "lost in translation".  

Reversing the decline
As a group of professional subtitlers, we established SUBTLE - The Subtitlers? Association to promote excellence in subtitling and fair pay for subtitlers. We will be seeking the views and support of the relevant cultural, educational and governmental bodies to improve standards in subtitling. We also need to enlist the support of film industry professionals and the general public, and that means YOU!

What you can do to help:
  • Join the Association. If you are not a subtitler but still wish to support our cause, you can become a Friend of the Association.
  • If you go to the cinema and find the subtitles are shoddy, complain at the box office on your way out and write to the studio.
  • If a TV programme is poorly subtitled, telephone and/or write to the broadcasting company.
  • If it?s a DVD you?ve been watching, take it back to the rental company/shop, complain and ask for your money back! In the UK, this is your right if it is not of satisfactory quality and/or fit for its purpose - these are both statutory requirements under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (for bought goods) and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (hired goods). There may well be similar laws in your country. Write to the studio identified on the box and at the beginning of the film.
  • Make a note of any specific subtitling howlers you come across and send them in to us together with the name of the film or programme, the format it was in (TV, DVD, etc.) and when you saw it.
  • Spread the word!

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